Guide to Starting a Restaurant Business

Ask a restaurant consultant about opening a restaurant and you’re likely to get a succinct answer: “Don’t!” The failure rate is high, the costs can soar out of control and the hours are brutal.

If you remain convinced that you are really want to be successful with this kind of business, put on your toque, brush up on your knife skills and forge ahead.

When you start your own restaurant business you will never be bored. There are constantly new challenges to face, but they are usually good ones, like how to juggle a reception dinner while at the same time feeding your regular Saturday night crowd.

Unlike being a chef, you do not have to go to school or take any specialized training to own a restaurant. However, to ensure your restaurant is a success it helps to know as much as possible about the industry.

People love to eat. We find the social environment of restaurants the perfect break from cooking, and relish the adventure of tasting new menus. If you’re seeking the life of haute cuisine, and are wondering how to start a restaurant, we’ve listed our resources and tools that will help you effectively write a restaurant business plan and get your business cooking.

Consider the following list before starting:

  1. Clarify your concept and put all the proposed details–from decor to dessert choices–in writing. If you can’t write about them, they need more thought.
  2. Investigate the regulatory requirements, both city and state. Prepare for a plethora of paperwork, including byzantine building codes with regulations covering everything from kitchen exhaust systems to interior finish requirements.
  3. Find an ideal location. Do a demographic study of the surrounding area. Research the amount of foot traffic and the availability of easy parking. Then negotiate a lease you can afford.
  4. Plan your menu early in the game. Kitchen layout and equipment purchases depend on it. Reduce your equipment costs either by purchasing used equipment or leasing new.
  5. Find the funds. Write a detailed business plan and consider forming a small private corporation or starting a limited partnership. However much money you think you need, raise more. Many restaurant consultants blame the high rate of new restaurant failures on undercapitalization.
  6. Allocate the available space. Remember that in addition to dining and kitchen areas you’ll need room for dishwashing, storage, bathrooms and administrative work.
  7. Plan the layout for the dining area. Remember to balance your desire for the maximum number of seats with your future customers’ desire to shun tables crammed into awkward corners. Also avoid locating tables in the middle of the room like woebegone little islands. Nestle tables–particularly two-tops–against low divider walls or other architectural features.
  8. Keep the kitchen layout focused on efficient, safe food preparation. Ensure that there is sufficient light and ventilation, as well as enough space so that cooks, servers and dishwashers are not bumping into one another at the busiest times.
  9. Don’t neglect the graphics. From the exterior signage to the look of the menus, graphic design plays an important part in a restaurant’s overall look.
  10. Pay attention to lighting design. Focus dramatic light onto the tables to highlight the food, and complement it with glowing atmospheric light to make the customers look good.
  11. Research and develop the menu. Taste-test the recipes repeatedly until the kitchen can achieve consistency. Remember that the food also has to look good on the plate. Plot out your menu pricing strategy. Have the final menu proofread before sending it to the printer.
  12. Decide whether to offer full bar service. Apply for a wine and/or liquor license.
  13. Investigate insurance needs thoroughly. Restaurants are simmering stockpots of potential accidents–from fires to floods to food poisoning and a hundred other potential horrors.
  14. Select and train the staff. Look for enthusiasm as well as experience. Allow ample training time before the restaurant opens. Remember that the person running the front of the house is as important as the person running the kitchen, and great service is as important a factor in winning customer loyalty as great food.
  15. Set up a bookkeeping and accounting system. Establish control over the meal checks. There are dozens of scams that dishonest servers and cashiers can pull; get some expert advice on how to prevent them.
  16. Designate a core of trusted employees to supervise storage areas carefully. Stress that they must check in all deliveries and audit the food inventory frequently.
  17. Pass your opening inspection by a food safety specialist with your local health department, along with a plumbing inspection. You’ll receive a permit to operate, which will be reviewed yearly.
  18. Open your doors and welcome hungry diners.

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